A British-Iranian housewife was sentenced to 20 years in jail this weekend for posting comments on Facebook while on a visit to Shiraz. Roya Saberi Nejad Nobakht, who formerly resided in Stockport, England, was even tortured in prison prior to her sentencing, The Times reported. She was said to be “devastated.” We would be, too.
Can we blame Nobakht’s plight on hardliners aiming to circumvent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to introduce reforms and freedoms? Possibly. But are things really that simple? Already in March, an analysis by Raha Zahedpour on X Index suggested the president, who was elected on a moderate ticket, was sending “mixed messages” on cultural freedoms and censorship. Yes, said Zahedpour, Iran’s House of Cinema was reopened and a major publishing house got its license back. But ultimately, even under Rouhani’s new order, the “principles” of the Islamic Republic still override civic rights; state censorship has simply been thrust from the hands of the government into the hands of the artists, who have been ordered in no uncertain terms to police their own art.
This week, an analysis by Tom Risen on US News suggested Rouhani’s “digital revolution” was “dubious,” as his idea of internet freedom, censorship and access to social networks was a “far cry” from that of the West. Yes, he may have called the internet an “opportunity” and a “right” in a recent speech, but in practice, said Risen, he hasn’t eased Iran’s “cultural repression.” Only recently we heard of more restrictions regarding Instagram and Facebook.
Risen quoted Robert Charles, a former assistant US secretary of state, as saying Rouhani hoped that by using “the social milieu the West treats as normal,” the West would pay “less attention” to Iran’s nuclear activities and human rights abuses.
Which prompts us to ask, in which other areas do Iran’s ideas not match those of the West?